Kari, please accept a warm welcome to US Referee Connection.
When did you decide to become a referee, and who were some of the influences on your career?
It was less of a decision and more of an obligation. My youth coach in 1985 required everyone on the team to become a referee in order to better understand the laws and the game itself. Needless to say within a year everyone else had quit refereeing, but with the help of some supportive referees in my area I stuck with it. A turning point for me occurred in 1994. I had been working hard as an official doing many youth and amateur games, but with no real sense of what the long-term possibilities of refereeing could hold. Then I saw the opening match of the World Cup at Soldier Field in Chicago. When the referee walked out on the pitch, I knew that becoming a World Cup referee was my goal. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have many influences in my career to help me achieve that goal, good people who have supported me, given me advice and have taken a chance on me. You can imagine when I was coming up the ranks there were very few women, so the folks who went out of their way to give me a chance really set themselves apart.
What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of the refereeing profession by coaches, players, fans and the media?
That referees are there just to make their lives difficult. We go out there trying to do our very best and we work really hard, especially at the professional and international level to be both physically and mentally prepared. There really is no empathy for what we do (i.e. there are many angles of play). Announcers are quick to say a referee made a mistake before replaying the video multiple times and seeing a number of different angles. Many times after they have done that, the announcers see it differently, or some uncertainty creeps in. Referees only get one split second and one angle to view the situation. There needs to be some understanding of the humanity of this game.
From your perspective as a professional referee. What are the best and worst aspects of being a referee and/or assistant?
The best is really the opportunity to be in the center of some of the best soccer in the world. To be surrounded by a sport I love and athletes (referees and players) that I admire. The worst part is when despite all your best efforts and in the moment of the game, you see things differently than the players, coaches and media. Mistakes stick with referees; no one wants to make mistakes. We are not perfect, but our goal is to mitigate the size and quantity of mistakes.
In your opinion, what are the key attributes that a modern-day referee must have to be successful domestically and internationally?
A referee needs to be a student of the game and they must have an understanding and empathy for what is happening in a match. The more you understand what is happening, the better equipped you are to deal with it in a proper way – one that gets the players back to focusing on the game rather than you. Not an easy task. It requires a lot of mental preparation.
How do you diffuse a volatile situation that you know players are about to explode?
Every situation and player is different. Recognizing the why and the how’s is critical for making a correct decision in dealing with players.
What’s your pre-match routine?
Nothing really special, it can vary depending on the match. The key is a good meal, a comprehensive pre-game and focus.
Pre match meal?
I like pasta before games, sometimes you have to do the best you can based on the hotel and transportation situation at hand.
We all have bad games, how do you deal such match in your mind?
When those matches happen, as it inevitably does – despite our best efforts in both physical and mental preparation– the key is to finding out what caused the problems, so I can learn and improve from there. That includes soliciting advice from experienced referees or assessors who watched the match, watching the match later (assuming it is televised) in a very critical way, as well as playing the incidents over and over in your mind. This analysis of course must happen post-game, as a referee cannot focus on mistakes or questions of mistakes during the match. The time for self-reflection is post game. And honestly, even if I thought I had a great game, I go through the same steps above. There is no perfect game, there is always something to learn no matter how many years and how many games someone has officiated.
Most memorable game moment?
With 27 years of experience, four Women’s World Cups and two Olympics under my belt, this is a difficult to answer. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had such amazing opportunities to represent my country. It has been my absolute pleaser and honor to be a representative of U.S. Soccer and there are countless special moments.
But the turning point for me in a match was around 1987 when I was refereeing a youth tournament in Michigan – a wonderfully talented U-12 game, which was really lopsided. There was so much talent on the one side that at 9-0 the defender for the losing team just couldn’t take it anymore and tackled the forward, ripping his shirt as he headed for goal. This was well before the red card for denying a goal scoring opportunity, but I knew this behavior warranted a red card (one of my first). Of course, the parents of the losing side couldn’t believe it and started to get upset.
I went home devastated after hearing what the parents had said and how awful they had behaved. I felt that not only was this job not worth the trouble, but I must have made a terrible mistake and was not fit to officiate. However, later that evening I got a call from the tournament director asking me to come back for the final the next day, saying he was impressed by my courage to do the right thing.
I was blown away. The lesson was that this job requires courage, that you should always do what you know to believe to be right and true. In the end by putting your best foot forward, no matter the game of the level, you can hold your head high. You never know when your courage will get you your shot at that next big game. This lesson has held true throughout my career.
How often do you train?
I follow the advice of the FIFA fitness trainers, and as a FIFA referee training for international assignments, we have a coach assigned who provides us monthly workouts. We are required to send in our HR, weight and caloric information monthly to these trainers. I add strength training to the workouts to help offset age and provide some speed. Generally a week consists of a game on Sunday, and active recovery & core strength on Monday. Tuesday is high intensity + strength, while Wednesday is rest. Thursday is speed endurance + strength, while Friday is speed & agility + strength, and Saturday is pre-match preparation.
What advice would you give to anyone who desires to become a referee?
We need referees. Whether you aim to be a World Cup referee, or focus at your local youth games, this game needs referees. No matter what level you chose to officiate, always do your best for the kids, adults and pros that you are officiating. The more you learn about officiating and challenge yourself the more fun it will be. Talk to other refs, ask questions, watch other referees and borrow things that work for you. All-in-all you should have fun. This is the greatest sport in the world.
Kari, thank you very much for your kind and insightful contribution to our Referee Community.